The Deathly Downward Spiral

You’ve been working a bazillion hours and you’re running on empty. The food fueling your body is borderline garbage. Your workout shoes are rotting in the closet. Your head isn’t on the pillow long enough to flatten either the pillow or your hair, you haven’t laughed in weeks, and your shoulders are hovering somewhere around your ears.

My friend Caryn calls it the deathly downward spiral.

It’s a yucky place to be.

Not long after Caryn’s comment, I was on a coaching call with a client who told me her stress levels were going through the roof – and she knew exactly why. She’d stopped doing the things that keep her centered: eating right (and regularly), getting to bed at a reasonable hour, moving physically, and spending time with friends.

She’d fallen into the, “I’m working so much I have no time for anything else and I have no choice,” pit.

Ever been for a visit? ;-).

Once upon a time you knew this stuff.

Things haven’t changed all that much since early in your life. Think of a toddler in a hungry, exhausted meltdown.

I don’t remember my own, but my niece’s and nephew’s are unforgettable. And who could blame them? Skip the nap or run late on a meal and there they go – full-power meltdown.

The deathly downward spiral is the adult version. It’s not a fun place to get stuck. Fortunately, the tools for digging your way out are the same ones that can keep you from tumbling in.

Go back to the basics.

Yup, it’s that simple.

Food. Be mindful of what, when and how you eat. The food you eat impacts how well your brain works. So, fuel yourself with healthy food when you feel hungry rather than waiting until your desk starts looking like a tasty treat. And when you’re in a whirlwind of activity, take a time-out to eat. Your brain will thank you for the nano-break, your digestive system will be much happier, and you’ll notice a boost in your creativity and ability to focus.

Breathe. You’ll be amazed at the impact just one minute of conscious breathing has on your mind, body, and spirit. Make a note on your daily calendar to breathe. It may sound crazy, but holding your breath is a physiological response to stress. A frequent reminder to breathe isn’t just a good idea, it’s a necessity in times of stress!

Movement. It doesn’t take much to get the blood flowing and shake the cobwebs loose. If you’re blowing off your normal 45-minute run because you don’t have time, give yourself permission for something shorter. (Ignore the snippy inner critic telling you it’s not worth the effort to do less. S/he’s lying to you.) Truth is, 99% of the effort is in getting started. After the first few minutes, you’ll naturally just keep on going.

If it’s really, truly a day where a deadline is looming and something dire will happen if you take even 15 minutes for a mini-workout, crank up some music and dance for a few minutes, do a dozen jumping jacks, or walk a lap or two up and down your office building’s stairwell.

Sleep. Sure, you can go a night or two without enough sleep. More than that, though, and you’ll end up short-tempered, panicked if your caffeinated beverage is out of sight, and frustrated by a seemingly inexplicable increase in silly mistakes. I misplace about thirty IQ points when I’m sleep-deprived! You’ll earn back that extra hour of sleep with increased productivity and clearer thinking – not to mention that you won’t have to clean up all those sleep-deprived mistakes.

Joyful moments. Especially on the busiest, most stressful days, a little joy goes a long way. Take a few minutes to connect with a friend (no kvetching – that’s not joyful), find a reason to laugh, or simply stand outside and feel the sun (or rain) on your face. We all knew how to do this as kids … you’ve still got it in you!

Eat, breathe, move, sleep, and grab a moment of joy … and you’ll be out of the deathly downward spiral in no time at all!

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”
~ Dr. Seuss



  1. Sarah Rockwell on May 5, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    Sometimes, we forget the easiest things we can do for our bodies to manage stress are things right in front of us. Often we give up these things to save time, but in reality it has the opposite effect and results in more stress.

  2. Sherry Essig on May 6, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    You are so right Sarah!

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